The 1950s and ’60s were known as the golden age of advertising because no other era saw such innovative, groundbreaking ad creative. Madison Avenue’s “Mad Men” were not only revered but were given the freedom to experiment, the results of which enabled many of their clients to dominate market share. An ad campaign’s success rose or fell on the right jingle, poignant joke or perfect psychological trigger — all driven by a steadfast commitment to excellent ad creative.
Creative lost some of its luster throughout the 1970s as advertisers focused on product positioning instead, and it became almost an afterthought in the 1980s as ad agencies got distracted by widespread consolidation. When the internet came along in the 1990s, advertisers saw it as a chance to reach more consumers more cost-effectively than ever before. Advertising became more about volume and efficiency than branding and creativity, and as programmatic automation took over, as it has throughout the last decade, that divide only deepened. Ads had little connection to the content they ran adjacent to, and uninteresting creative left viewers annoyed at the intrusion on their “free” content experience.
However, as the CEO of an in-app advertising platform, I’ve watched up close and personal as the industry has experienced a resurgence in advertising creative, driven by the rise of in-app advertising. With mobile about to surpass TV for consumers’ time spent, apps are becoming a primary vehicle for ad delivery. As they do, I believe creative is well on its way to once again becoming king, and there’s a wealth of reasons why.
Full-Screen Immersion Lifts Creative Restrictions
One of the key differences between in-app ads and other forms of digital advertising is that in-app ads typically take over the full screen. This not only gives an advertiser the consumer’s complete, undivided attention but also gives them much more space to work with than any type of banner ad on a computer or mobile webpage. And with smartphone and tablet screen sizes trending upward, advertisers are finally becoming freed from the restrictions of those minuscule banner ads.
Smartphone Technologies Open New Possibilities
In-app advertisements are just starting to take full creative advantage of hardware capabilities like accelerometers, gyroscopes and touchscreens.
There remains a blue-sky opportunity for marketers willing to push technical boundaries to develop high-impact, high-engagement ads for their products. It takes an intimate understanding of brand identity and a comprehensive grasp of technology. But that particular combination is becoming more common as a growing number of digital-first millennials grow in their careers, bringing with them a wealth of environmental knowledge that can be brought to bear on the modern advertising landscape.
New Creative Formats Enable Greater Flexibility
The rise of interactive videos, rich media, playables (ads you can play like a game) and other types of in-app ad formats have given rise to a whole new world of creative possibilities. When consumers can tap, swipe, pinch, flip and do a number of other maneuvers with their screens to interact with ad content, there’s no end to the ways that advertisers can engage their audiences. And while some advertisers are using rich media ads in basic yet effective ways, such as to showcase a carousel of their product images, others are using them to offer mini-games and other types of unique content experiences that are so engaging they almost don’t feel like ads.
Publisher-Advertiser Collaborations Are Stronger
App publishers — driven by the $70 billion mobile games industry — are sophisticated when it comes to integrating ads into their content in a way that drives attention, engagement and conversion. Because many ad formats are native to the app experience, ad performance becomes a shared responsibility between the publisher and the advertisers or ad network. Publishers want ads to appear in context and be a part of both the app experience and the in-app economy. And advertisers need to ensure that the ideal campaign is delivered to the ideal audience. Done right, this synergy produces unprecedented levels of effectiveness. In many cases, it has allowed ads to go from an annoyance to a crucial part of the product experience.
Apps Drive Engagement
While TV is a completely passive experience, mobile apps — and mobile games in particular — require consumers to interact with the content, making it a much more active, engaging experience. We’ve found that mobile gamers are nearly twice as likely to feel engaged and three times as likely to feel focused when compared to users of social media apps.
Mobile ads have incredible potential to capitalize on this engagement, and well-designed ad creative that leverages emerging formats is key. Banner ads and static images simply cannot mesh with interactive experiences the way playables and rich media can, especially when effectively integrated into the experience.
Perhaps the greatest signal that ad creative is seeing a resurgence thanks to mobile apps is that even while the app industry shifts to programmatic bidding, both app publishers and advertisers continue to include software development kits (SDKs) to support ad delivery. SDKs are required to deliver the advanced creative that brands have come to rely on.
Were it not for advanced ad creative capabilities, I think SDKs would quickly be replaced with programmatically enabled standards like VAST or MRAID. But because the engagement and ROI value for the advertisers are so much higher, publishers know the SDK needs to remain to deliver the value levels they are used to. With the continuing advancements in SDK-delivered creative, it may take much longer than expected for SDKs to be replaced.
Programmatic auctions and bidding to optimize outcomes are critical tools for digital advertising, but it is the resurgence of imaginative, engaging ad creative that is making the difference in driving better results to both advertisers and publishers in the mobile app ecosystem.